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Issue 65

Te Matatini 2015

The pōwhiri is about to begin. Two great encampments stand before the mānuka palisades, Ngāi Tahu to the east, the motu to the west. The Rātana band lines up. Warriors pad through the crowd to take their place out front, patu pounamu cradled in their arms. One breaks away to greet a kaumātua. They grasp shoulders in a quick fierce hongi, voices quiet.

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A Puzzling absence

The East Coast tradition of Ruatepupuke bringing carving to the world from the House of Tangaroa was not familiar to the people of Ngāi Tahu. In fact the closest to a carving origin story one is likely to find in Ngāi Tahu tradition is that of Tama who encountered the gods and their full face moko. He demanded the same decoration, in order to become handsome and win his wife back.

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Master Carvers
redefine the faces of Ngāi Tahu

With the revival of Ngāi Tahu language and culture and the reconstruction of whare tipuna throughout the motu in recent years, these craftsmen have been given artistic license to express themselves through a combination of historical research and contemporary design.
As West Coast master carver Fayne Robinson explains it, “Today’s contemporary is tomorrow’s tradition.”

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The first language of Te Waipounamu

Rock art is one of the oldest and most significant of the traditional arts, and considered by some an early form of written language: meaningful marks left for others to read. Some of those marks offer a glimpse of the world in the time of moa and pouākai (Haast’s eagle). Earlier that morning I’d witnessed a drawing of the giant eagle soaring across a cave roof at Frenchman’s Gully. In this landscape of hawks and falcons, it’s easy to imagine the artist looking up to see that vast shadow pass above.

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